Skull Crushers - A Quick Guide With Tips

Skull Crushers - A Quick Guide With Tips

Skullcrushers have an endearing name. Most of us want bigger arms, and since the triceps make up two-thirds of your arm, let's attack those first.

Creating thick, horseshoe triceps take a lot of time and using some effective tricep exercises.

What Muscles Do Skullcrushers Work?

Skullcrushers are a single joint exercise that targets the triceps.

Adding this single joint exercise into your training can help you develop bigger and stronger triceps.


Our triceps are responsible for elbow extension found in most pressing movements. The skullcrusher isolates the triceps by having deep elbow flexion while stabilizing your wrist and shoulder joints.

Strong triceps are key to a heavier bench and any pressing movement. If you are a powerlifter, you need to have strong triceps for locking out bench and doing overhead presses.

For weightlifters, tricep work is necessary for elbow extension in the receiving phases of a jerk and a snatch.

Increased triceps strength decreases wear and tear on your elbow joint.

Shoulder Stabilizers

While this isn't a shoulder exercise, the scapular stabilizers and your rear delts work to stabilize your shoulder socket to remain in that position.

Maintaining shoulder stability allows us to flex our triceps through the necessary range of motion.

Skullcrusher Form Tips

Pick a weight you can complete 10 to 12 reps with initially — you'll need to learn the form before you go heavy.

Minimize Your Elbow Flaring

Doing barbell skullcrushers can be uncomfortable even in healthy participants. Instead of jumping in too heavy, using a conservative weight for this exercise ensures you are properly using your triceps.

If your elbows start to flare out and you use your upper arms to complete the movement, the weight is too heavy.

Don't Use Momentum

Momentum pulls the tension off of your triceps and removes the effectiveness of the exercise. When performed in a controlled manner in the full range of motion, you will increase the size and strength of your triceps.

Keep your upper back on the pad, don't raise your butt off of the bench, and focus on getting a solid tricep contraction.

Programming Skullcrushers

There are a few different ways you can program skullcrushers into your routine — for strength, muscle mass, or muscle endurance. These are just general guidelines, so don't be afraid to try things out to see what works best for you.

For Strength

Building pressing strength with skullcrushers can be achieved by performing four to six sets with four to eight reps, with a rest period of two to three minutes between each set.

Pick a weight you can work with, but focus on producing a lot of power while you stay tight.

For Muscle Mass

If hypertrophy is your goal, adding some volume will help. Working with your rep tempo and ensuring you use a full range of motion is important.

Try four to six sets of eight to twelve reps with a rest period of one to two minutes.

For Muscle Endurance

Muscle endurance can be important for some sports, so performing high rep ranges with very short rest periods will work best.

Try performing two to three sets with more than 12 reps with a rest period of 60 to 90 seconds. This is very sport-specific.

Progression of skullcrushers can come from doing more weight, more reps, more sets, decreased rest period, and improved rep quality. Strive to improve every session.

Skullcrusher Variations

Along with playing with your tempo and paused reps, there are a few other variations to skullcrushers that you might want to check out.

Skullcrusher Negatives

Working the negative, or eccentric portion of a lift is highly effective for driving hypertrophy.

Using a spotter, you have them help you straighten your arms out and you slowly lower the weight to your skull. The spotter will then help you straighten your arms and do it again.

Repeat for reps.

Incline Bench Skullcrushers

You can do any sort of skullcrusher, just use an incline bench.

The slight incline will increase the stretch and range of motion on your triceps — essentially hitting it from a slightly different angle.

Dumbbell Skullcrushers

I actually like to use the EZ Curl bar for skullcrushers and then jump into dumbbell skullcrushers.

Using dumbbells will help you attack your triceps unilaterally. This is great for lifters who have muscle imbalances or some coordination issues.

Using dumbbells also allows you to get a deeper elbow flexion which may improve your muscle development.

Wrapping It Up

Choosing effective exercises, performing the form correctly, and consistently striving to do better are things you need to do if you want your triceps to grow.

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